In recent years, much has been said about the cycle parking in Utrecht. Particularly the guidance system and the new indoor parking at Utrecht Centraal. So I was looking forward to trying out the parking facilities while we were staying in the city.

Arriving in Utrecht, we followed the signs of the guidance system to find the cycle parking. We chose the cycle parking located on Vredenburg, the busiest cycleway in The Netherlands.

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Cycle parking guidance system

The parking is below ground, so there’s a slope down to get to it. A channel is provided either side to enable you to negotiate the slope. The channel on the right has brushes to slow you down and the channel on the left has a conveyor to help you up.

These work very well, unless you’re British tourists and try to use the wrong one to get down as we did! A local was quick to point out our mistake and we moved to the correct one.

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Navigating the slope down, using the correct channel

As it was our first time using the parking, the attendant attached barcode stickers to each of our bikes, then gave us matching barcoded fobs. We’d need these to drop off and pick up our bikes, with the attendant scanning them.

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Barcode security fobs for dropping off and picking up bikes

We used this cycle parking twice during our stay. The first time on Sunday, it was relatively empty and easy to find spaces. The second time, on Thursday, it was necessary to use the upper tier to park the bikes.

I was a little apprehensive about doing this at first, particularly with my bike, a rather weighty Gazelle HeavyDutyNL with the added weight of a FollowMe Tandem attachment. I was surprised to find it was relatively easy to locate the bikes on the upper tier. Not something I’d choose to do, but not a big issue.

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Parking our eldest’s bike on the upper tier of parking

In the cycle parking, there’s buggies for younger children that can be used and there was a vending machine, providing lights, puncture kits and inner tubes. This is great, and shows that thought has really gone into how the cycle parking is used.

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Buggies and vending machine with useful bike bits

We were really impressed with the cycle parking. It’s easy to find, easy to use, secure and free for the first 24 hours. Trying to use the new indoor parking at Utrecht Centraal is a somewhat different story.

As the indoor parking is part of the station, an OV-chipkaart is required to use it. For locals, this isn’t a problem, but as tourists visiting this was very difficult or even impossible. We were told it was possible to get tourist OV-chipkaarts in Amsterdam and The Hague, but we didn’t get opportunity to confirm this. This was a shame as the parking was very impressive.

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Indoor cycle parking at Utrecht Centraal

As we were unable to park in the indoor cycle parking, we parked nearby in the outdoor parking. Although it was unprotected and open to the elements, the outdoor parking was a substantial size, with plenty of free spaces.

Even with the extensive indoor and outdoor cycle parking, there’s still lots of demand for on-street parking. Ultimately, it’s hard to complete with being able to park exactly where you want to be, rather than having a potentially long walk to and from the cycle parking. This was evident walking round Utrecht, with lots of bikes parked on the street.

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Plenty of bikes parked on the streets

Comparing Utecht’s cycle parking to Manchester’s Cycle Hubs, there’s some clear differences in approach. Utrecht’s cycle parking has no financial barriers to use, there’s no membership fees and it’s free to use for less than 24 hours. Manchester’s Cycle Hubs require an annual membership, costing anywhere from £10 to £200 a year, depending on the hub you want to use and the level of membership.

Another key difference between the two is who the cycle parking is aimed at. With buggies and central locations near shops, it clear that Utrecht’s cycle parking is aimed at the typical Dutch rider, probably with kids. Manchester’s Cycle Hubs with showers, lockers and locations near stations and places of work are clearly aimed at the typical Lycra wearing commuter.

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On-street parking in the suburbs

Like nearly all Dutch cities, Utrecht has clearly had problems coping with the number of bikes and the demand for cycle parking, which is certainly a nice problem to have. With the excellent indoor and outdoor cycle parking and very effective guidance system, Utrecht is well on the way to addressing that demand in the city centre. In the suburbs though, it looks like they’ve still got some way to go.

Next to part 2 – The route to De Haar Castle

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